Through a hidden door tucked behind a moving bookcase, step the customers who know the game. But before they can pass through a wall to enter the funky subterranean world of Bitter & Pour, a riddle must be answered. The question? That they find out at the door.
And once the answer is given and the bookcase slides open, the many pleasures of craft cocktails and impeccable wine become accessible, says Andrew Ferguson, general manager of Bitter & Pour LLC of Rochester, Minn.
“Bitter & Pour is the lovechild of four nice guys with stardust in their eyes,” declares the establishment’s website. And their mission was just a devotion to serve the best in craft cocktails—some taking as much as four minutes to create—and pour the finest bourbon there is.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand’s blog Recipe for Success, Andrew Ferguson lets us peek into the budding business that has taken historic 3rd Street by storm.
Q: What is the concept of Bitter & Pour?
Our concept was to offer a swank and comfortable lounge that focuses on craft cocktails and offers an experience that far exceeds the typical bar scene. So, for example, we don’t have any customers standing. Our main bar has seating for 72 and we have up to 35 additional seats in a party room, and we strictly adhere to our seating capacity because we feel a seated experience is far better than a standing one.
We have a detail-obsessed focus on craft cocktails that take up to four minutes to create. We also keep the volume of the music turned down so our patrons can enjoy the experience, which is comfortable, classy and swanky. And without having to yell.
Q: Who are your patrons? What’s the demographic?
Our demographic is surprising. We attract people from ages 21 to over 60. Many are doctors and other professionals, and in general, connoisseurs of fine bourbon and cocktails.
We see a lot of people come in groups of two, four and six, who will each order a different cocktail and then pass them around the table.
Q: What’s an example of one of your best-selling cocktails?
We have something called The Problem Solver. This is made with one of our fine house bourbons with a demerara (specialty brown sugar) and house bitters. It’s old fashioned, but it’s one of our best-selling cocktails. We have another specialty drink called The Rich Uncle which takes three-to-four minutes to make and we sell for $25. This is created from Whistle Pig 15-year rye whiskey, carnalized demerara, a molded spear and house bitters.
Q: How did you attract your first customers?
We did a lot of promotions through Instagram and Facebook and Bitter & Pour spread word of mouth. It helps that we have a hidden entrance in the Merchant Exchange building with a moving bookcase, and you have to solve a riddle first. We do have another entrance off the street, which is down some stairs, or elevator. But I think our unique hidden entrance helped us get the word out.
Q: How did you and your partners come up with the idea for Bitter & Pour?
I’ve been in the hospitality business for 21 years, since I walked into a bar when I was 19 and looking for a job. My partner Josh Kral was also been in hospitality for a long time, and he’s the creative genius behind our menu of 38 cocktails. Our partner John Pacchetti is the driving force behind the business and our fourth partner Patrick Hass handles all the social media that works to generate buzz and excitement.
Q: Anything surprising about your success with Bitter & Pour?
The funny thing is, we got so much advice after we opened last December. People said we should turn up the music and offer standing room options. We’re also a cashless experience, and everyone said that would never work. Someone else told us we didn’t offer enough beers. And we serve only a very limited tasting menu.
Well, we’re almost a year into it and we’re doing so well that we’re looking into opening a second venture. There is nothing like us around and people love it. Before we opened, we went to places and took notes, writing down the experiences that worked for us, and those that didn’t. And when we opened our doors, we knew we wanted to be something completely different. And we’ve done that, and it worked! — Bitter & Pour uses Boxerbrand’s Metallic Tones line in their table presentation. Thank you!